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The Hot Button 

The Issue: The city and the Pittsburgh Parking Authority are pushing ahead with plans to privatize authority-owned parking garages and surface lots. Mayor Luke Ravenstahl hopes this will raise enough money to stabilize the city's ailing pension fund. Metered parking spaces -- owned by the city, not the PPA -- could be sold off as well. An advisory committee created by the mayor is hoping to finalize "guiding principles" so potential bidders know what's expected of them in the next couple weeks. 

The Plus Side of the Process: Privatizing city garages has been in the discussion stages for nearly a year and it seems like it's not a matter of "if" but "when." If the city doesn't find a way to cover pension shortfalls, the state will step in and could potentially take it over. City officials are hoping that leasing its parking assets would create a lump-sum payment of about $200 million to help fund the pension. No other plan has promised that much revenue.

The Downside of the Process: It's likely that privatizing garages will mean an increase in the cost of parking. Public garages have typically been slightly cheaper than private lots. But under privatization, rates could rise to levels charged by private companies, which is currently about 50 percent higher than current PPA rates. The other problem? "A lot of this process has happened behind closed doors," says Pittsburgh City Councilor Natalia Rudiak, a PPA board member and advisory committee member. The authority doesn't need to solicit public input before making a decision, she says. (Though if parking meters were included, that would require council approval.) "I think people are, and should be, concerned about their soon-to-be-skyrocketing parking rates, and their input is not being heard." 

How you can sound off: Admittedly, it won't be easy, but city council will hold special sessions (no public input) for the next four Thursdays (starting Feb. 25) at 1:30 p.m. to discuss the pension situation and parking-lease proposal. The Pittsburgh Parking Authority meets at 11 a.m. on the third Thursday of every month at the agency's office (232 Boulevard of the Allies), where public comment is permitted. You can also call Parking Authority Director David Onorato at 412-560-PARK. Additionally, Rudiak says concerned citizens can petition city council for a public hearing where comment is invited. The petition is available at the city clerk's office, on the fifth floor of the City-County Building, or at www.city.pittsburgh.pa.us/city_clerk.

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